In Britain, a media conglomerate is backing the UK Independence Party in the run up to the next general election. Cause for concern, or a lame horse?
When dictators take control of a country, they also seize the means of communication: newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet. Current examples: Russia under Putin, Thailand under Prayut Chan-o-cha, Zimbabwe under Mugabe. But in a democracy, the media are held to be independent, that is until a politician’s cronies buy them up and gift-wrap a ready-made mouthpiece and an audience to go with it. Christmas has come early for UKIP’s Nigel Farage.
Daily Express owner Richard Desmond has thrown his weight behind UKIP, pledging £300,000 less than five months before the general election. In November, the Daily Express declared that, “Ukip is leading the political agenda. The Tories have been more effusively eurosceptic since the realisation that Ukip is more than a vehicle for protest votes. And both the Conservatives and Labour have upped their rhetoric on immigration in a bid to woo back Ukip voters. Yet still people are demonstrating disdain for the political establishment by deserting the major parties.” A taste of things to come.
Desmond owns the publishing and television group Northern & Shell, whose holding company is Northern and Shell Network Ltd., whose chairman is now Lord Stevens, a UKIP peer. It includes the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, the magazines OK!, New!, Star, and TV Pick Magazine. Northern & Shell also runs three entertainment television channels: Channel 5, Channel 5* and 5USA, as well as pay-per-view Portland TV, with 17 UK broadcast channels carried by SKY, Freeview, Virgin and BT Vision.
Back in October, the British businessman and former Conservative Party supporter Arron Banks pledged UKIP £1m. Banks upped his UKIP donation from £100,000 to £1m after William Hague – First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons – diplomatically said he had never heard of him.
Many people believe that if UKIP were to gain real power, fear and prejudice will become endemic to political discourse. UKIP promotes chaos and disruption rather than well thought out and workable policies. Its manifesto may appear plausible, but that’s because racist vitriol is a hard sell. Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, learned that lesson when she took over from her ignoble father. As Alex Andreo wrote in a striking article in NewStatesman (11 February 2013):
“If you find yourself nodding in agreement with a couple of items on Ukip’s long list of empty promises, remember all the other things you will also be signing up for. They represent a particularly insidious brand of extremist; Bigotry Light, if you will – all the hatred of normal bigotry, but none of the calories.”
More sinister yet is the fact that UKIP’s rise is not unique in Europe. Support for fascist-leaning, right-wing, eurosceptic, anti-immigration parties is becoming a feature of European democracies. Nigel Farage has already expressed admiration for several dubious characters whose antics have led to overt violence in Austria, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine. How long before it reaches the streets of Britain?
Harnessing the media to a truckload of horse manure is an attempt to gain power and influence without responsibility. In matters of politics and good governance, media content has to be independent, impartial, balanced, and genuinely open to different points of view. Supporting UKIP and Nigel Farage merely endorses a party of dubious credentials and an opportunistic politician who peddles snake oil.
As Bertolt Brecht wrote in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui:
Gods have sent him down to scourge us
For all our savage sins and urges,
Stupidities and apathies,
And cowardice, and here he is –
The troubler of this poor world’s peace. O phooey!
The one and only great Arturo Ui!”